RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia’s statewide NAACP conference is calling on legislators to support criminal justice reform bills currently going through the General Assembly.
During a press conference Friday morning, officials with the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Virginia State Conference share their support for five bills they believe will help Virginia move toward being more equitable for all, especially minority communities.
“Black lives, brown lives, and all those are marginalized across the commonwealth must be valued. Reforms to the criminal justice system are long overdue in the commonwealth. We do applaud the work being done by legislators on both sides of the aisle that are doing more to make Virginia more equitable,” said Robert Barnette, Jr., Virginia NAACP president.
The organization, which was founded nationally in 1909, held the press conference specifically on Friday to reinforce the need for legislators to pass five bills that were being discussed on Friday.
Executive Director Da’Quan Love says during the last year, there’s been much discussion about equity and inclusion and righting the wrongs of Virginia’s history. He believes the commonwealth will be able to repair the harm that’s been done through these reforms.
“They’re all common sense and they make a lot of sense and help contribute to our society. They help boost our society and show that Virginia is moving forwards not backwards,” he said.
The bills include changes to:
- Criminal street gang reporting
- Required releasing of body camera footage when an officer uses a firearm, stun weapon, or chemical irritant
- Adding sheriff’s offices to law enforcement agencies that can be seen by civilian oversight bodies,
- Creating the Office of the Department of Corrections Ombudsman
- Automatic expungement
Automatic expungement was the top priority of the day.
“This is important because, with these offenses on their record, it affects them getting certain housing, jobs, credit. It affects everything they do. We want automatic expungement after eight years of no offense whatsoever,” said Gaylene Kanoyton, who is the political action chair for the conference.
The group stressed the importance of pushing for HB 2113 to get passed, saying it would get rid of many barriers that stand in the way of expungement currently.
“There are multiple expungement bills but the ones we are supporting are those that provide expungement without barriers,” Love said. “We believe that once someone has paid their price to society, they shouldn’t have to petition a court. They shouldn’t have to pay additional court fines. They shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer. It needs to be expunged. We are seeing special interest groups ease their way into these processes but what we’re doing is trying to protect Virginians of color.”
The NAACP also said they were in support of abolishing the death penalty.
While many of these bills are still being discussed, the organization is hopeful reform will come.
“We’re not going to declare victory until the bills are signed into law. Until then, we’ll work aggressively to push forward,” Love said.